Know Your Writing Demons.

[I’ve been reading some awesome, thought-provoking blog posts recently from these lovely ladies, and they’ve inspired me to throw my own thoughts into the mix. It got long, so this is part 1 of 2. Here we go.]

What are writing demons?

They sit at your desk with you, whispering all of their unhelpful advice. There are multitudes, but personally, one talkative trio bugs me the most.

I’d like to introduce them to you, just in case their brothers and sisters live on your desk.

The Not-Now Demon
(a.k.a. Procrastination)

She’s definitely a temptress. You know the one. She tries to turn you away from your writing desk at all costs. She assures you that you’re totally going to get a lot of writing/revising work done today. But not now.

Maybe it’s a little mean to call Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo a demon.
She’s not really, but then I always thought of Procrastination being
an impish, fun-loving creature, who doesn’t mean to mess you up.
I don’t think I could say no if Ponyo just wanted to play.

First, you’ve got to check Twitter. And refresh your email at least a thousand times. And you really should take a break to do the dishes. And to watch the latest of episode of So You Think You Can Dance/True Blood/Glee. And when was the last time you called your great-aunt Myrtle?

She’s a dangerous little demon. Mainly because she seems so harmless. But then half the day slips by before you even realize you’re procrastinating…

The Eww-Not-That Demon
(a.k.a. the Internal Editor)

This one’s tricky, because you actually need him. I didn’t always have him. I spent many blissfully ignorant years scribbling novel-length stories in notebooks that no one was allowed to touch. Back then, my idea of editing was adding the commas and quotation marks I missed.

Okay, so this is actually a demon from Soul Eater,
the show I’ve been watching most recently on Hulu.
But this is how I think of that little internal editor.

But something happened when I began attending youth summer workshops in high school and creative writing classes in college. Basically, the more I shared my work with others. I began to notice a little editor demon, sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear: “Would this character really say that?” “Are you sure you need that sentence?” “This scene is getting too long. Speed it up, Shelby!” “Conflict! Where’s the conflict?!?”

I’m happy to have this little guy. He improved my writing like whoa. But that’s only when I’m revising.

If he’s around when I’m working on a first draft, he can be crippling. He can tear a scene to pieces before I even get it on the pages. All he has to do is wince at a word choice, and all my enthusiasm takes a beating.

The You-Are-Not-Worthy Demon
(a.k.a. Self Doubt)
Okay, so this is the Black Horned King from Disney’s the Black Cauldron,
based on a book by Lloyd Alexander. But he gets to be Self-Doubt,
because
he freaked me the heck out when I was a kid. (Actually, he still does.)

My least favorite demon of all. We all have him shadowing us, sometimes even on days when we’re not at our writing desk. His catch phrase is, “You[r writing] suck[s].” This demon compares us to our favorite writers, and then gleefully tells us, “You’ll never be that good.” He tells us to quit now before the whole world starts laughing at us.

I wish I could tell you that he has a redeeming quality, but he really doesn’t. He is simply unhelpful. And very, very mean.

Now the real questions is, What can we do with these guys?

Good news: They’re part of us, so they’re just as likely to be wrong as we are. (I may be weird, but I find that a really reassuring thought.)

Bad news: They’re part of us, so they go where we go. Running from them won’t help. Even if you avoid them one day, they’ll find you soon.

They must be conquered. Again and again.

Unfortunately, there’s no set formula for how to defeat writing demons.The only step we have in common is realizing they’re there and they’re ultimately unimportant.

No, the more I’m around different writers, I see more and more that everybody has their own method for every step of the process, including quelling writing demons.

Some writers vent to friends and family.

Some writers work out out to use up all their excess energy and let endorphins do lots of their writer-demon slayage.

Some writers send long, angsty emails in the middle of the night to whoever they think can reassure them – maybe a writer friend or a beta reader or an agent. (I don’t recommend this. If you do this too often, then you’ll become annoying, and then they’ll stop opening your emails. That’ll take you back to square one.)

A great many writers turned to substance abuse to combat writing demons, which is where we get the cliché of the alcoholic/druggie artist. (Don’t recommend that one either.)

My tactic: Vent to my journal, and possibly a few friends or loved ones if I’m really down. And of course, read fabulous blog posts by fellow writers dealing with their own demons. (Read those if you get a chance; they’re awesome.) 😀

Who are your writing demons? How do you deal with them? (And has anyone else named theirs, or am I totally weird?)